Thursday, March 8, 2007

Cr@zy Magic - The Illusionist

This is one of the most intriguing films I’ve seen in quite a while. The story is loosely based around a fictional short story called “Eisenheim the Illusionist”, published as a part of a collection of stories by Steven Millhauser titled, “The Barnum Museum”. The story of the Illusionist tells about a 19th century magician who so twists the perception of illusion and reality that he is being chased by the police.

The movie opens with a man being arrested for an unknown crime; a magician who appears to be performing seances under the guise of a magic show. We then hear Inspector Walter Uhl (Paul Giamatti) relaying the history of the magician, and the story begins to unfold.

We meet a young Edward Abramovich (Edward Norton), the son of a cabinetmaker, when he is a boy. A wandering magician stops him in the fields one day and performs some illusions, by which Edward is so impressed that he becomes obsessed with magic. As a teen, he falls in love with Sophie von Teschen (Jessica Biel), a duchess whose parents contracted his father to build furniture for them. The separation in their classes makes their relationship impossible, and eventually Edward is forbidden from seeing Sophie.

Grief-stricken, Edward leaves home and changes his name to Eisenheim, and travels abroad learning the secrets of magic and illusionry. 15 years later, he comes to rest in turn-of-the-century Vienna, and begins drawing large crowds with his remarkable and seemingly impossible illusions. He has even caught the attention of Crown Prince Leopold of Hungary (Rufus Sewell), who attends his second show. At the end of the show, Eisenheim calls for a volunteer who is not afraid of death, and Prince Leopold rises and volunteers his lady. As she approaches the stage, Eisenheim realizes she is Sophie, his lost love. He asks her, “Do you know me?” She says no. He says, “Are you quite certain that we’ve never met?” Her reply: “Yes, of course.”

At his dismay, he finds out after the show that Sophie is set to be engaged to Prince Leopold. He meets with the royal court after the show, where the pompous Prince Leopold disregards his illusions as mere tricks, and invites him to perform at his palace for his “intelligent” friends. At this point, Sophie has recognized him. As the royalty departs, Leopold comments that Eisenheim had better have something good up his sleeve, and the magician replies with, “Maybe I’ll make YOU disappear,” as he casts Sophie a longing eye.

He begins to devise a scheme to get Sophie out of her arrangement and make her his again. He plans to use his adept knowledge of magic to trick the Prince and Inspector Uhl, and regain Sophie, until things don’t go quite as he has planned. A cruel twist of fate changes his direction: he begins performing necromantic shows and razing lost souls.

You won’t believe where this one will take you. The cinematography is absolutely fabulous. Well, all but in a few places where the soft focusing overdramatizes the scene so much that it’s almost hard to put together what’s transpiring. I got a “Phantom of the Opera” feeling from this movie; the antique theatres and dark, romantic atmosphere with the turn-of-the-century look and feel is very unique and adds so much to quality of the film. Not to mention the incredible plot twists. The acting was first–rate from everyone; very eloquent and well-studied. Ed waxes poetic throughout the entire movie; especially when he’s in front of an audience. His words are like the lyrics to a really beautiful song. And he actually spent about 6 months studying the art of illusions and stage magic so he could perform some of the sleights and add a realistic feel – which is good, because I think too much CGI would have ruined this film.

The only things I didn’t like about this movie: the seedy sex scene in the middle was really a turn off. The cinematography was very poor, and I think overall, that tidbit contributed nothing to the rest of the story. I like much better the idea of them eluding to the fact that the sex happened, but I also don’t agree with the way it happened. If you see this movie, you will understand when I say, “It would not have happened that way in real life, especially not during that time period.” I also thought that the beginning set an excellent precedent for keeping you wanting to know what happens next, but toward the mid-end it starts to get a little boring and repetitive. You just want some resolve at that point, and I think that there could have been a better way to approach getting the point across.

“From the moment we enter this life, we are in the flow of it. We measure it and we mock it, but we cannot defy it. We cannot even speed it up or slow it down. Or can we? Have we not each experienced the sensation that a beautiful moment seemed to pass too quickly, and wished that we could make it linger? Or felt time slow on a dull day, and wished that we could speed things up a bit?” - Eisenheim on the concept of time

Oh yeah, one other bonus about this movie: Ed Norton is a total babe in this one. At least, I think so. I think it’s that beard… plus, think about it. He’s a magician… how fun would that be? I just thought I would throw that in there!

:) Enjoy!

The Illusionist (2006)
Directed & Written By Neil Burger
Short Story “Eisenheim the Illusionist” By Steven Millhauser
Genre: Drama / Mystery / Romance / Thriller
Cast: Edward Norton; Paul Giamatti; Jessica Biel; Rufus Sewell; Eddie Marsan
Nominated for an Oscar in Cinematography Achievement
Rated PG-13 for some sexual content and violence
Length: 1 hour, 40 minutes